"So, what does Tyler want?" It was well known in Blacksheep Close that Cheryl didn't care for Sam Tyler and his group. The reasons for it were well known too, and most of the locals were happy that Tyler's Patch was over twenty kilometres away.
"He wants us to co-operate with him against another group who's pushing into his area," replied Kim. The Asian-ancestored woman was Blacksheep's best diplomat. "He says they're trying to take over and put themselves in charge of everyone east of the ranges, and between the two big rivers. He's offering us his protection if we feed his mob while they fight this other lot for everyone's good." Kim paused, "He'll be back in week for our answer. Frankly, from the looks of them, they've been low on food for a while now. All our people are better dressed than they are, and those were some of their top people and toughs."
Cheryl gave a humourless smile. "So, that no dead weight policy of theirs is really working out for them, is it?"
"I think they're having envy issues at this point," replied Kim. "We should probably post extra patrols for the next few nights. Otherwise we might lose a few sheep and some vegetables to a 'friendly' raiding party. Possibly to be followed by an additional offer of protection. For our own good, of course."
"I'll speak to Claude and Clem about it," agreed Cheryl. "I doubt Clem wants to lose any of his sheep, and Claude knows more about patrols and rostering than anyone else I know. If there's such a thing as a talent for being short sighted, then Tyler's got it. He turned both of them away, you know."
"Like he did you, and anyone else with kids or elderly relatives," commented Kim. "That's why he doesn't have enough people to spread the load out for the little stuff that needs doing, or anyone who can sit down all day to knit or crochet clothes and blankets."
Cheryl gave a barking laugh. "Did he really think that the end of the world as we knew it was going to be a boys' only adventure with no girls allowed? Or emotional attachments to anyone but him, or compassion?"
"That implies some things that I think Mr Tyler would be very uncomfortable with," replied Kim primly. "Perhaps it's best that you don't repeat your suggestion that his entire group is emotionally attached to him too widely, it might give people quite the wrong idea."
"That would be terrible," Cheryl nodded gravely. "But I think that if this other group does contact us, we should at least give them the time of day. If Tyler doesn't like them then they're either dreadful, or much more like us than Tyler is. Can you reach out through the seashore groups and see if any of them have heard of the people Tyler's talking about? I wouldn't put it past him to make a story up to get supplies out of us."
"Anthea and Mulligan are off to visit the co-op tomorrow to trade them for more salt fish," Kim said thoughtfully. "I'll get them to ask if they've heard anything. The co-op talks a lot to the Booragul Boys, and the Boys know just about everything there is to know from Stockton to Merriwa. If there's anything in it, the co-op's our best chance of getting an objective view."
"So, we'll see what Anthea and Mulligan can find out." Cheryl smiled. "It would be nice to have big neighbours we can trust."
Some hours later and some distance away, there was another conversation. "Our deep scouts have just reported in," began Sladojevic to his assembled command and operations teams. "Tyler has, as expected, reached out for allies. It seems that he is finding that he has fewer friends than he thought, or that he isn't physically close enough to any of the people he contacted to be able to intimidate them into immediate agreement. The dislike of him our intelligence people reported seems to be working in our favour." He gestured to the senior intelligence officer for clarification.
"Dislike is one of the milder emotions his group has engendered," said Gladesville. "There's disapproval of his methods. Then we move into outright hatred, fear, and loathing. There are survivors alive from the group he took his compound off in the first place, and they are very bitter about the whole affair." He paused, "And then there are the rumours about some of his activities in getting his initial resources together when everything first went sideways. If half of them are true, he acted like he was living out some survivalist fantasy, and everyone outside his immediate group was, and perhaps is, an NPC in a computer game."
The legal officer, Blake, asked, "Anything that constitutes actual evidence that we could get to hold up in a properly convened court?"
Gladesville shook his head. "No. Also, the small point that there is no overarching political, administrative or legal entity to convene a court."
Sladojevic took a deep breath. "There isn't now," he said, "but what if we made that story we approached Tyler with real? Most of the people we've spoke to on our way here would like things to go back to something like the old normal; with ease of trade, good food distribution, and a reasonable expectation of law and order, along with an absence of daily fear. We could start that here."
"Form a government?" Hartas, the senior logistics officer considered the idea for a moment, then added, "Or find the right people to do it?"
"The other thing my team has pulled out of our investigations," added Gladesville, "is that everyone in the area we're interested in actually gets on fairly well with each other, except for Tyler's group - they're not in any of the trading or social networks unless they force their way in on a one-off occurrence. If we neutralize him, or pull his group into line somehow, we might not have to force a local organisation on anyone - it might happen without us."
"We start by isolating Tyler more," ordered Sladojevic. "Contact all the groups he's reached out to, not to recruit them, but to make contact and show that we're nice people too. Tell them that we've made it home from an overseas deployment and we're looking for our families. It has the benefit of being true, and we might even find some of our families that way. We'll decide our next step when we have friends."
The medical officer asked, "How much longer will you need me to keep Parker confined to quarters for? He's more in control of himself now, but he's still fixated on Tyler having his wife's car in that compound, with no sign of the children anywhere."
"Send him to one of the groups that has people that Tyler kicked out of that compound in it," decided Sladojevic. "They might remember if that car, and any of Parker's family, came to the compound with him. Parker's got a clear reason to be asking, and they might want to help."
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